Issue Tracking in an Agile Development Environment

The term “issue tracking software” is most often associated with a bugtracker. However, in software development, the definition of an “issue” is much broader. An issue can be a bug; however, it can also be an enhancement, impediment, user story, development task, and more. In its broadest sense, an issue is anything that functionally needs to be addressed or delivered within a product release cycle.

As more organizations embrace agile methods for software development, they are turning to agile project management tools to help them manage the many issues that will arise during the course of a software release cycle. So how exactly do Agile project management tools handle issue tracking, and what are some of the advantages they bring?

It might be helpful to first look at how agile teams work. Let’s assume that an organization is using Scrum, the most popular Agile method, for their agile software development. Scrum teams work in “sprints” – which are typically two to four week periods. The feature requests that are to be completed in each sprint are written up as “stories” and placed in the product backlog, which is groomed and prioritized by the product owner. At the end of each sprint, the team has produced an increment of potentially shippable product – in this case an increment of properly tested”software”.

As “issues” arise – and they will – during sprints, agile teams attempt to deal with them and course correct immediately, rather than wait until the end of the entire product build. These issues might be impediments discovered during the daily scrum, bugs, or change requests and, similar to features, the issues are entered as stories into the product backlog. Agile teams feel the best approach for dealing with bugs and other high priority issues is not to separate them from “features”, but, rather, to include them in sprints along with features. In this way, before a feature can be signed off, the issues associated with that feature must be resolved and closed. So in a sense, for agile development teams the distinction between bugs and features becomes less important, and the product backlog becomes in a sense – just a list of things people want.

Agile project management tools are designed to help agile teams manage the complexity of dealing with these large backlogs of features and issues in a software release. After issues and enhancements are written up as stories, drag and drop interfaces in the agile tools make it easy for product owners to work with the team to prioritize stories, move their priority up in the backlog or drag them into the next sprint. Burndown charts another simple, but powerful feature of an agile tool, help provide visibility into the progress a team is making on tackling issues and features across one sprint, several sprints or the entire release. Burndown charts allow teams to see the projected release dates and time remaining. If teams find that they are dealing with particularly complex issues that may delay release, they may choose to adjust the scope of the project accordingly. By using agile tools that allow teams to manage issues alongside features, agile teams strive to minimize project risk, and increase the odds of producing a more reliable, higher quality product.

About The Author:
Laszlo Szalvay currently serves as the VP and GM of the Scrum Business Unit at CollabNet, Inc.

CollabNet leads the industry in Agile ALM in the Cloud. The CollabNet TeamForge ALM platform, CollabNet Subversion software configuration management (SCM) solution, and ScrumWorks project and program management software enable teams using any environment, methodology, and technology to increase productivity by up to 50% and reduce the cost of software development by up to 80%. The company also offers training, including Certified ScrumMaster training, software development process improvement services, and an innovative community management approach to driving enterprise development success. As the founder of the open source Subversion project, CollabNet has collaborative development for distributed teams in our DNA. Millions of users at more than 2,500 organizations, including Applied Biosystems, Capgemini, Deutsche Bank, Oracle, Reuters, and the U.S. Department of Defense, have transformed the way they develop software with CollabNet.

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